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It costs how much?

A few years ago most commercial photographers wouldn’t stoop to shooting weddings and family portraits. It was beneath them. Some of the photographers that did, went to great lengths to hide their wedding and family work from their commercial clients. Although I separate my commercial and family work on different websites I’ve never been shy about either. I love working as a photographer. Period. I love shooting both and I’m proud of the work I do in both areas.

The downfall is that on a couple of occasions the lines have blurred and I’ve ended up having uncomfortable conversations about my pricing and why I charge what I charge. Do I charge more to shoot a head shot of Mrs. Jones compared to shooting her during a family portrait session? Yes. Why? Specificity. A recent (potential) family portrait client was scheduled for a portrait session. She mentioned and hoped to get a few shots to use on her business website. In my most professional and gentle manner, I described my purpose and goal with family portraits. I explained how those goals and the associated pricing isn’t in-line with shooting corporate head shots.


When I shoot for a commercial client my job is very specific. I’m hired to help my clients with sales and marketing. Are they trying to sell a home, their jewelry, their interior design services, or just sell themselves? Typically the results from a commercial shoot is a handful of preconceived images. They pay for my help to execute their vision or in some cases to help conceive of and shoot their vision. I charge commercial clients based on the scope of the job, the resulting retouching and a licensing fee for using the images. If the job is relatively easy and straight forward they pay a lower rate. If the job requires me to drag a bunch of lights and grip equipment to the beach at 5AM, then the resulting rate will reflect the challenges involved with the shoot. After it’s all said and done commercial clients only pay to license and retouch the photos they want to use.

The image below is a section of proofs I shot for a Best Buy commercial. The image was to be used as a full-page ad on the back of a newspaper. On this particular day I shot 458 images including lighting tests and shots of just the laptop. I shot Mark holding the laptop, not holding it, with a jacket, without a jacket, sitting, standing, etc…. This was our second photo shoot to get this one image. Of the 1000 or so images I shot over the course of the two shoots they chose one. (In the end they changed the concept and didn’t use any.)

Unedited proofs

Unedited proofs

Wedding and family photography is a different story.  My wedding and family clients expect a variety of great images to view and chose from; something that my commercial clients don’t usually request. I edit every single image my wedding and family portrait clients see. I want them to see their proofs and know that they will look at least that good if they order a print.  The image below was shot a couple weekends ago in Santa Barbara for Matt and Sara’s engagement session. I shoot in a format known as RAW. Basically it’s a digital negative needs to be processed on the computer. Because I am doing the processing rather than allowing the camera to decide on how the image should look, I have control over how the final image looks. The image on top is what the image would have looked like had I not edited the file. The colors are drab, it’s not sharp, the contrast is low and it reflects that we were in a parking garage. The image below is after editing. This editing process is included in all my wedding and family work but not in my commercial jobs. Ironically I photographed both Matt and Sara’s business head shots and they are familiar with both pricing models.

Unedited image on top. What the Matt and Sara saw

Unedited image on top. What the Matt and Sara saw

For the most part my wedding and portrait clients don’t get to direct during my shoots. Yes, when a mom or a bride has a specific idea for her photo, of course I oblige and shoot it. It’s her time, she’s paying me and only if she likes the resulting images will she order a print. But they don’t get to view each image as I shoot it and then discuss what’s working and what’s not. It’s a different level of service and therefore the rates for wedding and family clients are substantially lower.

This pricing seems logical to me but it wasn’t to her. The potential family portrait client I mentioned decided she didn’t want me to shoot her family portraits.  It would have been easy for me to just shoot a handful of “head shots” of mom during the family portrait session rather than loosing the job. One of the images might have worked for her head shot purposes, but what if it didn’t? What if I didn’t spend enough time and effort making the head shot and she thought they all sucked.  Now she thinks I’m not a good commercial photographer.  Maybe she tells her friends and colleagues, maybe she hires someone else.  Why put myself in that position? If you want a specific image, let’s spend time thinking about and planning it.  If you want variety and great images to use on your holiday card and hang on your wall then let’s plan on that.

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